Sixty-five youngsters got a semi-toadal experience of what it's like to be a Conway firefighter during the Crawl, Drag and Squirt competition on Saturday.
The competition mirrors the Scott Combat Challenge that the Conway Fire Department takes part in annually but is scaled down so that the children can effectively participate.
The miniaturized version of the combat challenge gives children the opportunity to compete while wearing firefighter gear. The age-graded competition, with separate divisions for boys and girls is a timed obstacle course that emphasizes various skills used for firefighters — participants use large rubber mallets, crawl through tunnels and aim hoses.
Each of Conway School District's qualifying participants puts on a firefighter coat and races against the clock — and their classmates — during the competition.
As parents and other family members lined the sides of Front Street to cheer their favored youngsters along, students raced against each other, crawling though tunnels, smashing a bar with a rubber mallet, dragging a hose along a short distance and squirting at a target.
Each year, the school with the fastest times takes home the annual champion trophy. This year, students at Woodrow Cummins Elementary School claimed the champion title.
Sarah-Catherine Orahood, the school's physical education specialist, said each of her students performed well during Saturday's competition and that she was glad they were given the opportunity for this semi-toadal peek into a firefighter's career.
"I'm so proud of them and how they came out and competed," she said, noting the students who competed — kindergartners Dawson Davis, Sam Upton and Laney Orahood; second graders Adeline Ledbetter and Will Virden and fourth graders Will Upton and Kamiah Powell — represented Woodrow Cummins well.
Six-year-old Jared Heintzen of Carolyn Lewis Elementary School also participated in the final rounds Saturday.
His father, George Heintzen, cheered him along from within the splash zone — where passersby were more likely than not sprayed with water as youngsters learned to negotiate and aim their hoses all while quickly hitting their targets to move onto the next obstacle.
"He rocked it," George said of his son's performance and ability to maneuver the course.
Brian Moix, who retired from the fire department last year, birthed the competition which serves as an educational tool to help children get motivated and learn through hands-on experience what firefighters go through in 1998.
The program begins in April each year and the championship competition is held during Toad Suck Daze.
Battalion Chief John Skinner said program sees many faces each year, but with each passing generation, the fire department repeatedly receives continued support for the annual Crawl, Drag and Squirt competition.
"It's just good for the community and the students," he said. "It's great to see so much support from the district. This program is in it's 20th year, and there's still a great deal of excitement about it each year."
The competition begins hopping up about a month before Toad Suck Daze begins, as qualifying rounds are held throughout the Conway School District. The fire department also holds a preliminary competition the first night of the festival at the Central Fire Station, with the championship being held on Saturday of Toad Suck.
Each finalist received a medal for their efforts and participation and trophies were awarded to the top three finishers in each division.